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Marisa Lizak breaks out at Desert Solstice, with Camille Herron as coach

By Larry Carroll

Reports out of Arizona have Marisa Lizak breaking records at Desert Solstice, the annual elite-level ultrarunning track event in Phoenix. The news is particularly noteworthy because she is coached by Camille Herron – a Solstice juggernaut herself just last year.

“If you are not familiar with the name, Marisa Lizak, you will soon,” reports the Instagram page for the US National 24 Hour Running Team . “She quietly came to Desert Solstice Invitational Track Meet – 100 Miles & 24 Hours race and has run away with the fastest time for a 100 mile race in 2019.”

With her stunning under-15-hours time of 14:50:44, the Marina del Rey, California native broke the previous 100-mile run record of 15:32:31 set by Kaci Lickteig at the Javelina Jundred Endurance Run just two months ago. She then went after the World Record for 24 Hours, running a total of 148.08 miles to take the new American 40-44 AG record (besting Traci Falbo’s 147.11 in 2014). These numbers give her the 4th best women’s qualifying time for the 2021 World Championship, and also make a strong qualifying mark for the 24 Hour National Team.  

Just last year, Herron herself was the talk of Solstice “Desert Solstice 2018 Re-Cap“. She broke the Women’s World Record for 24 hours with a distance of 162.9 miles, and claimed the 100 mile American Track Record for Women with a time of 13:25:00. This past October, Herron re-asserted her dominance in Albi, France, winning the IAU 24-Hour World Championships, adding just under five additional miles to her record by covering 167.8 in 24 hours.   

“I may need @runcamille as my coach!” tweeted @Tracey_Outlaw, using the hashtag #runlikeagirl. “Her athlete, Marisa Lizak, just threw down at Desert Solstice. Massive number for 24 hours.”

The dominance of Herron and Lizak seems to be ushering in a new era of competitive track ultra-running, as records are seemingly rising and falling with each successive race. 

“Fangirling from afar for our athlete Marisa!” Herron tweeted mid-race, in support of her protégé. “She’s running great.” 

Herron then followed that up tweet after the race with clapping emojis and the celebratory boasts of a proud parent: “148.08 miles to win Desert Solstice overall and break the 40-44 age group American Record!!! Fantastic!”

Held annually on Central High School’s oval track measuring 400 meters, Desert Solstice is seen by many as an event orchestrated to optimize record-breaking potential – and once again, it lived up to its billing.

Lizak ran 595 laps and beat her own personal record by more than 11 miles over the course of 24 hours. “Overwhelming!” was the word she used to describe the experience to USA Ultrarunning , who tweeted a photo of her after the race recovering in a chair, staring down with head in hands. 

“I just can’t imagine what these runners go through, running for 24 straight hours,” tweeted Patrick Duggan, a sprinter in awe of Lizak’s achievement. 

Following behind Lizak was Rolfe Schmidt (Fayetteville, AR) with a distance of 145.80. Here’s the top finishers for each field in terms of 24-hour distance:

Women’s:

1. Marisa Lizak (Marina del Rey, CA) – 148.08 miles

2. Yvonne Naughton (La Conner, WA) – 117.81 miles

3. Adela Salt (Leduc, AB) – 116.13 miles

4. Sarah Emoto (Sierra Madre, CA) – 91.21 miles

5. Suzi Swinehart (Fort Wayne, IN) – 70.58 miles

6. Laurie Dymond (Chambersburg, PA) – 63.63 miles

7. Meghan Laws (Cool, CA) – 62.13 miles

8. Nicole Bitter (Phoenix, AZ) – 35.79 miles

Men’s: 

1. Rolfe Schmidt (Fayetteville, AR) – 145.80 miles

2. Oswaldo Lopez (Madera, CA) – 141.13 miles

3. Zachary Szablewski (Issaquah, WA) – 115.36 miles

4. Scott Traer (Lyons, CO) – 102.15 miles

5. Pete Kostelnick (Brunswick, OH) – 100.66 miles

6. Mark Hammond (Millcreek, UT) – 100.00 miles

7. James Elson (St Albans, GBR) – 100.00 miles

8. Jacob Moss (Ladson, SC) – 90.47 miles

9. David Huss (Seattle, WA) – 70.58 miles

10. Kyle Pietari (Edgewater, CO) – 68.60 miles

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Pristine Patagonia: Ready for its Racing Close-Up

By Larry Carroll

When an event bills itself as “the running experience of a lifetime,” you might be inclined to think it’s just hype. But when we’re talking about Patagonia – the sparsely-populated South American region shared by Chile and Argentina and boasting views of the Pacific, Atlantic and Southern Oceans – it’s anything but hyperbole.

In recent years, 3 groundbreaking (and endearingly unique) running events have been introduced in the extreme south, allowing athletes to compete amidst a backdrop unlike anywhere else in the world. The Ultra Fiord, Ultra Paine and Patagonian International Marathon each offer runners a chance to compete in various distances, across wide-ranging terrains and elevations. 

“Through these events, runners have the unique opportunity to experience running in Patagonia,” says race director Stjepan Pavicic. “By holding these races during the low season, not only does it help support the local tourism industry, but runners are also guaranteed greater access to accommodations, travel and other services, and all at a more affordable price.”

If you’re thinking about putting “the running experience of a lifetime” on your to-do list, which of these races is the one for you? Let’s take a closer look. 

The Patagonian International Marathon launched in 2012, marking the first time a road-running race was allowed in the Torres del Paine National Park – a majestic natural marvel between the Magellanic subpolar forests and the Patagonian Steppes, encompassing lakes, mountains, glaciers and rivers. Featuring distances of 10K, 21K and 42K, it certainly offers a challenge to any runner, whether you’re a rookie or elite. Touting itself as the ultimate way to get up close to the breathtaking beauty of Chilean Patagonia, the event has grown exponentially over the last 8 years while attracting over 4000 runners from some 65 countries around the world.

Patagonia then upped the ante in 2014 with the introduction of Ultra Paine, which embraces runners of all levels in the region’s first trail running race. This is your chance to navigate stunning river crossings and forest climbs, in distances of 14K, 35K, 50K or 80K in one of the world’s most pristine running environments. 

In 2015, Ultra Fiord was introduced as Paine’s extreme younger brother. Encompassing high-mountain passes, glacier crossings and views of the fjords and mountains of Torres del Paine National Park, it has since gained a reputation as one of the most challenging trail running races around. 

With the calendar turning to 2020, the Patagonia triad of races is getting ready for their close-ups. Ultra Fiord (https://www.ultrafiord.com/) kicks things off on April 24 and 25, featuring everything from 21K, 42K, 50K, 60K and 80K to two-day races of 95K, 115K and 136K. The 9th Edition of the Patagonia International Marathon (10K, 21K and 42K) will take place on September 5 Patagonian International Marathon . Ultra Paine (14K, 35K, 50K and 80K) goes down just a few weeks later, on September 26. 

Ultra Paine is an Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc qualifying race, with different points being awarded for your chosen distance. Like the others, it is also quite active in conservation partnerships with the Chilean Patagonia, seeking to increase environmental awareness and tourism promotion. 

As for the Ultra Fiord, perhaps 2015’s 100-mile 2nd place finisher Enzo Ferrari said it best on his blog: “A tremendous, wild, tough, and strong race, suitable for those who truly are mentally strong and have a powerful heart,” he remembers of his time in Patagonia. “My goal was to finish, and, in the best case scenario, finish amongst the top 5. I had the opportunity of finishing second – not for being the fastest, the most trained, or the most capable, this was perseverance, toughness, mind, mind, and mind – convincing myself that there are no more limitations that one could put. Today, I am a person more prepared from what I went through.”

If you have a similar desire to develop your whole being through a transformative, once-in-a-lifetime experience, you might want to consider the Patagonia race most appropriate for your skills. It’s the rare opportunity to combine running, nature and travel – and if you love all 3, it’s hard to imagine a better gift combining fitness and adventure that you could give yourself heading into the new year. 

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Rocky Raccoon 50: Athletes Prepare to Run Their Own Race

By Larry Carroll

There’s a good reason why the image selected for the registration page of the Hoka One One Rocky Raccoon 50 Endurance Trail Run is a smiling athlete wearing a tutu. Rocky Raccoon has been growing exponentially over the last few years, driven by a culture that embraces the “no pressure” mindset, and runners are responding to that.

Wanna run a 50k? Prefer to run 50 miles? A half marathon, your first ultra, or a really fast 50? No pressure, the Texas-based event seems to say – you be you. 

Wanna put on your game face? Prefer to take the course with a smile and a silly hat? Again, you be you.

Online registration is now open for the February 8th 50 miles/50k/half-marathon options, which will almost definitely sell out as more and more athletes use it as a solid option to begin their new year. Set in the city of Huntsville (population: 38,000), the course promises challenging elevation changes, beautiful pine trees, cool bridges and some Texas wildlife.  

Rocky Raccoon 50

Founded in 2002, the Rocky Raccoon 50was amended to include the 50k option in 2016, but capped out at 500 runners max so it won’t lose its charm. 

One interesting thing about the Rocky Raccoon 50 is that both the men’s and women’s categories seem ripe for a record reset. The fastest men’s race was run by Todd Braje (5:43:08) in 2011, and women’s champion Melanie Fryar (6:59:40) set her record way back in 2010. Another interesting factor is that race times seem to be trending in the wrong direction: There hasn’t been anything close to 7 hours for women in the near-decade since Fryar set the record, and the last 3 Rocky 50s have been over 8 hours. For men, two winners came within a half-hour of Braje since 2011, but the last two Rocky 50 winners have taken well over 7 hours. 

Much of this fluctuation can be attributed to weather, trail changes and the occasional trail closing that requires adjustments. As the site says: “Please appreciate these records knowing they are not certified but are impressive.” Could this year’s Rocky start reversing the trend back down?

Another interesting note is that the Rocky Raccoon 50 often trends older than many races. Last year’s winners were 49 (Amy Ewing of Texas) and 46 (Chad Lasater, also of Texas); in 2018, Barb Delgado took the women’s title at age 50 – and in 2006, 51-year-old Larry Hall led the pack. Indeed, the 50 miler proudly maintains a database of the fastest runners per age – all the way from 14 (Matt Holdaway, 12:29:42 in 2011) to 79 (Grant Holdaway, 14:55:47 in 2011). An ultra-running family with grandfather/grandson record holders at both ends of the age spectrum – how cool is that?

Every finisher gets a cool commemorative medal, and as their website shows (TEJAS TRAILS AWARDS & FINISHER MEDALS), race organizer Tejas Trails takes great pride in creating unique, handmade medals for its races. Some can even double as bottle openers or wine stoppers. Also, in keeping with the “you be you” mentality surrounding Rocky Raccoon, Tejas loves giving special awards to standout performances – as the website explains: “Whether it be for someone who slowed down to help a straggler accomplish their goal, someone who we know went through the ringer to get their race done, whoever had the most crashes, or a mom who ran/picked flowers/caught bugs with their little daughter the whole 10km, who knows what…”

Rocky Raccoon 50

Helpers will often be greatly appreciated, as evidenced by this excellent blog ( Rocky Raccoon 50 Miler ) from 2018 runner “Iron Jill,” who chose Rocky Raccoon as the ideal trail run while she ramped up for bigger races. She dealt with a constant drizzle as the race began, followed by heavier rainshowers later in the day. 

“The hardest part was all the mud from the rains. And the course was pretty mucky from the 100 mile race the weekend before,” she writes. “And oh the roots! It should be called Rooty Raccoon!”

After only 1 mile, Jill landed in a deep puddle and soaked herself – and her other foot hit a root, rolling her ankle. At mile 9, the “Damnation” aid station brought relief for her rapidly-developing blisters thanks to a helpful aid. Later, she earned herself the nickname “Mud Butt,” falling into a massive mud puddle. By the end of the race, Jill had a raw big toe, a taped-up ankle, and was soaked in mud – but finished the race with a smile and the mantra: “I CAN do hard things!”

Keep your eye on this year’s Rocky Raccoon 50 to see similar stories of pain, trials and triumph. Ultimately, everyone has their own race to run – and it’s fun to see one event that proudly affords its athletes the opportunity to blaze their own trails. 

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Fourmidable 50K ready for another wet, wild race

By Larry Carroll

It is time once again for the Fourmidable 50K, for mud-splashed legs, hunched-over uphill climbs, hugs of camaraderie and muscles stretched to their very limits. 

Known far and wide as one of the most challenging 50K races out there, Fourmidable gets its name from the four most substantial climbs along its course. Fresh out of the gate, runners must descend down to the American River, then climb back via punishing Cardiac Hill. Around five miles in, the field runs across No Hands Bridge and climbs up Training Hill towards Knickerbocker Canyon – then descends to the river again. Now having successfully danced along with the river and traversed it, runners climb a series of switchbacks to the Knickerbocker Aid Station. It all finishes up by following the Western States trail towards the No Hands Aid Station, heading uphill once again to the finish line.

With less than a mile of road at any given point, the event offers over 6000 accumulative climbing feet over the course of its completion – so yeah, it’s a pretty decent workout. The 2019 installment (Fourmidable 50K 2019) featured intermittent rain, substantial mud puddles and a raw morning push-off, so don’t be surprised if the weather wants to once again complicate matters – following on the heels of rain season in California, the 2017 Fourmidable was even muddier.

In case you can’t tell from the description, the Fourmidable is … well, quite formidable. As such, it is a selection race for the U.S. Trail Team, and an official qualifying race for the coveted Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc in the French Alps. 

This year’s Fourmidable will take place February 15 and 16 – appropriate, since it’s likely to break the hearts of more than a few competitors who can’t quite conquer it. Held in Auburn, California’s gorgeously intimidating Overlook Park, the event will be accompanied by a 35K, a half marathon and a 13K as well. 

The 2020 race offers a unique cash incentive to those brave enough to strap on their running shoes. Both the male and female categories have set aside $100 for fifth place, $200 for fourth, $500 for third, $700 for second and a cool $1000 for their first place finishers. 

To further sweeten the pot, anybody who breaks the current course record for either gender gets an extra $500 awarded to them. Currently, these records are held by Max King (3:32:36 in 2017) and Stephanie Howe Violett (4:10:16 in 2018). Since both of these records were set fairly recently, who knows? Perhaps the Fourmidable organizers could be shelling out some substantial coin come February.

As long as you finish the race, this much is certain: You’ll receive a cool finisher’s award to memorialize your run, and show off to your jealous friends. Depending on your age, you could also qualify for an age group award presented to the top finisher 19 years and under, 70 and older, and each decade in-between. 

Last year’s Fourmidable was won by Tim Tollefson of Mammoth Lakes, CA. He came within 11 minutes of the course record, followed closely behind by Sam Sahli (Boulder, CO), Evan Williams (Seattle, WA), David Kilgore (New York, NY) and Ryan Ghelfi (Ashland, OR). On the women’s side, Daniella Moreno of Santa Barbara, CA finished just barely 2 minutes behind the record, followed by Rachel Drake (Portland, OR), Chessa Adsit-Morris (Santa Cruz, CA), Corey Conner (Longmont, CO) and Emily Richards (Reno, NV).

As difficult as Fourmidable can be, perhaps the best advice can be extratcted from Andrew Taylor, an athlete who blogged (FOURmidable Wet and Muddy Race Report) about his wet, physically-demanding 2017 Fourmidable experience. When you see a puddle, he says, just go for it:

“The run across No Hands Bridge featured a large puddle that was un-escapable. I charged right down the middle of it, soaking my feet for the first time of the day. As I hit the far end of the puddle, I jumped up in the air and came splashing down to cheers of the aid station workers and a few spectators. After all, it’s not fun to be out here, if you’re not having fun as well.”

The bottom line? Lace your sneakers uptight, find the right balance of pushing and pacing yourself, but don’t ever be too grown up to make a splash every now and then. After all, one of the great things about running is that it makes you feel so alive – so, live it up out there.

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